Alberta Health Minister Jason Copping was in Red Deer on Wednesday to help announce a long-awaited $1.8 billion expansion to Red Deer hospital. (Photo by LANA MICHELIN/Advocate staff).

Alberta Health Minister Jason Copping was in Red Deer on Wednesday to help announce a long-awaited $1.8 billion expansion to Red Deer hospital. (Photo by LANA MICHELIN/Advocate staff).

$1.8 billion Red Deer hospital expansion announced

Hospital beds will be increased to 540 from 370 in expansion expected to be finished in 2030-31

Calling it “a historic day for Red Deer and central Alberta,” Premier Jason Kenney announced on Wednesday that $1.8 billion will be invested to redevelop and expand the Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre.

The capital project, which has been sought for more than a decade by physicians, and other health care workers and advocates, will be the largest in Alberta’s history — and the largest taxpayer investment in the history of central Alberta, said Kenney, who spoke in Red Deer at the Gary W. Harris Canada Games Centre.

Kenney said the eight-year expansion will start with a $193 million investment over the next three years and will ultimately involve the addition of 200 new in-patient beds, increasing the hospital’s capacity to 570 beds from the existing 370 — a 54 per cent adjustment.

Three new operating rooms will be added, increasing surgical capacity to 14 operating rooms.

And the project will bring a new cardiac catheterization lab to the city, that’s expected to save lives as more heart-attack patients get treated locally rather than sent to Calgary or Edmonton

“For too long, central Albertans have been waiting for these critical upgrades and expansion of the Red Deer Regional Hospital,” said the premier, who noted his government had embarked on a needs assessment for this project while trying to reduce overall spending over the last two years.

But COVID stretched the capacity of hospitals, in the meantime, exacerbating shortages and requiring unpopular restrictions to keep health facilities from being overloaded, said Kenney.

“That’s why we’ve made expanding the Red Deer Regional Hospital a priority, and we’re putting our money where our mouth is. Alberta’s Recovery Plan has already seen healthcare infrastructure built from Grande Prairie to Calgary, and now, it’s making sure world-class health care is there for Red Deer and central Alberta for years to come with the largest investment in the history of central Alberta.”

The project’s next steps include functional programming and detailed design. Health Minister Jason Copping said while completion of the total expansion project is slated for 2030-2031, Central Albertans should see some changes within the next three years, as renovations to the current infrastructure will be part of the project. He added more details would be released in Thursday’s budget.

Copping added, central Alberta’s growing population means it’s challenging to provide health care services with the hospital’s limitations, “resulting in all too frequent disruptions to patient care.”

Physicians have complained about patients waiting too long in emergency, having to be shuffled into hallways, and transferred out to other health facilities because of chronic beds shortages.

Surgeons have also spoken about long surgical waits and delays leading to less than optimal patient care.

This redevelopment will increase capacity and expand services so more central Albertans’ can get their health needs taken care of without having to leave the region, said Copping.

It will also create jobs, noted Prasad Panda, Minister of Infrastructure, while Finance Minister Travis Toews called it a key component of the government’s commitment to building health care capacity throughout the province.

Adriana LaGrange, Minister of Education and MLA for Red Deer North, revealed some personal experiences with hospital deficiencies. She said her husband was once booked into a tiny tub room when he broke his wrist as no other hospital rooms were available. LaGrange recalled he had to eat from a food tray that was resting on the toilet.

Another dying relative was put into a space too small to accommodate family members who wanted to say their final good-byes, she added — and he was then moved into the hallway while waiting to be transferred when another hospital bed opened up.

“This is the No. 1 infrastructure issue in central Alberta. It is desperately needed,” said LaGrange.

She called the expansion “extremely significant for our city and long overdue…. As the third-largest city in the province, this expansion will go a long way in providing the medical care and attention we have long needed and strongly advocated for,” said the MLA.

The Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre is the busiest hospital outside of Edmonton and Calgary. It has the fourth-highest volume of any Alberta Health Services’ facility. About half of patients seen at the hospital are referred from communities outside of Red Deer.

In the 2020 provincial budget, $100 million was allocated to the project to cover some initial planning.

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